PDC delegates hear from church planters


Church planting focus of PDC convention

By Connie Faber

One delegate described the Pacific District Conference convention held Nov. 6-7 at College Community Church Mennonite Brethren in Clovis, Calif., as a “listening conference.” It was an apt description of the biennial gathering that takes place in a 24-hour timeframe.

The 102 delegates from 40 of the 120 MB churches in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington spent little time discussing district business and reports. They spent the majority of their time hearing stories from PDC church planters as well as messages from three keynote speakers highlighting each of the PDC objectives: church health, church planting and leadership development.


Church planting takes center stage

According to their printed report, the PDC Board of Home Missions is currently providing financial assistance to 12 developing churches—four in California, three in Utah, two in Washington and one each in Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. Throughout the convention, church planters from nine of these fledgling congregations shared personal stories and examples of the creative ways in which these new congregations are connecting with those who don’t yet know Christ Jesus.  

  • Andy Basilio of Friends of Jesus Ministries in Las Vegas, Nev., told of ministry in the “City That Never Sleeps.”
  • Boris Borisov, bi-vocational pastor of Pacific Keep Church in Spokane, Wash., spoke of efforts to reclaim and retell God’s story to second generation Slavics and to young adults with no church background.
  • Noting that because “life is messy, church is messy,” John Richardson of Mountain View Community Church Sunnyside, reported that this new church plant in southeast Fresno, Calif., has had 11 baptisms in 2015.
  • Gavin Linderman of Axiom Church in Phoenix, Ariz., told of the ways in which music is instrumental in the life of their growing congregation.
  • Melissa Bergen, pastor of community outreach at Iglesia Companerismo Cristiano, Shafter, Calif., described her work with the nonprofit literacy and education program Little Free Library that prompts children to call her “The Book Lady.”
  • Brad and Delilah Isaak with Selma (Calif.) MB Church (Iglesia Evangelio En Accion,) spoke of the growth they have witnessed as children involved in their programs are becoming teens who are interested in serving in the church.
  • Eric Nelson, church planter in Utah County with the South Mountain Community Church Lehi satellite campus, spoke of his vision for ministry in this county where only half of 1 percent of the population is evangelical Christian.
  • Jared Pulliam, pastor of Christ Church Sellwood in Portland, Ore., thanked the PDC for their support as this growing church plant seeks to connect with the many people moving to this city—as many as 600 a day.  

After each person shared, the church planter made his or her way to the center aisle where delegates gathered around the individual and several interceded for specific prayer requests, for the church planter and for the community.


Keynote speakers highlight church planting, church health, leadership

Church planting was also the focus of the Friday evening program that featured church planter Joe White as the keynote speaker. White’s message from Luke 4:14-21 was interspersed with stories from the Jackson Neighborhood, a geographic area in downtown Fresno that is home to 923 households and the target community for Neighborhood Church, the church plant White and his wife, Heidi, are leading.

The final component of the Friday evening program was a panel moderated by PDC minister Gary Wall and comprised of senior pastors and the individuals they are mentoring. The panel highlighted ways in which experienced pastors are training a new generation of church planters.

The panel included Paul Robie, lead pastor at South Mountain Community Church, and Eric Nelson church planter for SMCC’s Lehi satellite campus; Brad Klassen, lead pastor at Copper Hills Church in Phoenix, Ariz., and Gavin Linderman of Axiom Church, Copper Hills’ daughter church; Fred Leonard, lead pastor at Mountain View Community Church in Fresno, John Richardson, church planter for Sunnyside, MVCC’s daughter congregation, and Lawrence Smith, a MVCC intern who is now working with White to plant Neighborhood Church in Fresno.

The offering taken Friday evening for church planting totaled $3,422.

In addition to church planting, the convention highlighted two other PDC priorities: church health and leadership development. These two objectives were highlighted by speakers Dennis Fast, pastor of Reedley (Calif.) MB Church, who spoke on church health, and Terry Brensinger, president of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, who addressed leadership development.

Fast and Brensinger incorporated the convention theme, “Compelled by Christ’s Love,” and the convention text, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, into their messages.

“There are no perfect churches,” said Fast, who spoke Friday afternoon. While there are many resources that address church health, “the Bible is our textbook for the life of the church,” he said. Drawing from Acts 2:42-47 and the convention text, Fast listed five characteristics of healthy churches: God-fearing, love-pursuing, life transforming, relationship building and people reaching.

Following Fast’s message, Dave Thiessen, chair of the PDC Board of Faith and Life, invited delegates to gather in groups of three or four and to pray for the health of their congregations.

Saturday morning, Brensinger emphasized the importance of creating a culture of leadership among U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Referring to the convention text from 2 Corinthians as well as 1 Thessalonians, Brensinger said such a culture would include a Christ-like paradigm for leadership, offer inspiring leadership examples and foster supportive followers.


Reports kept brief

During business sessions, PDC delegates heard from District Minister Gary Wall and brief reports from the Executive Board, Board of Faith and Life, Board of Home Mission Board and Board of Trustees as well as the Board of Next Generation Leadership, the newest PDC board, and the Hispanic Council, a group that provides a bridge between the PDC and the district’s 35 Hispanic congregations which comprise one-third of the PDC. 

In his report, Hispanic Council chair Arturo Lopez highlighted two annual events sponsored by the council: a youth camp and pastor retreats. Lopez also reported that the Hispanic congregations want to plant more churches and that he hoped that in two years there would be a new church plant in Sun Valley, a community dealing with violence and drugs.

For the first time, delegates heard from the Board of Next Generation Leadership, a board formed two years ago when the Board of Youth Ministry merged with the Board of Leadership Development. Chair Jordan Ringhofer reported that although circumstances had left the board with just two current members, the board implemented a summer internship program that in involved 20 participants in both 2014 and 2015.


Delegates approve recommendations

Delegates approved three recommendations presented by the Executive Board. They welcomed The Vine Bible Church, of Bakersfield, Calif., and Iglesia Crisitana Fe y Compasion, Inc., of Los Angeles, Calif., as new member congregations. The Bakersfield congregation was started by four Filipino families and is pastored by Armand Javine. Romea Castro leads the multicultural congregation in Los Angeles that connects with the many Hispanics in the area, ministers to the homeless and works with youth from dysfunctional families. 

Juan Wall offered a prayer of blessing for both of the congregations.

Delegates approved a spending budget of $513,400 for the 2015-16 fiscal year, a 1.6 percent increase over the 2014-15 amount of $505,100. They also accepted proposed changes to the PDC by-laws that were intended to clarify and update the by-laws to reflect current practice, for example, the merger of the Board of Leadership Development and Board of Youth Ministries.

The PDC convention was adjourned for a portion of Saturday morning and was reconvened as a meeting of the Fresno Pacific University Corporation. FPU board chair Don Griffith moderated the meeting that included a report from President Richard Kreigbaum.

Delegates took action on two matters connected to PDC representation on the FPU Board of Trustees; the PDC elects or appoints 60 percent of FPU trustees. Delegates elected new PDC representatives and approved a change to the corporation bylaws to allow the PDC Executive Board to elect their FPU trustees between biennial meetings of the corporation.

Two FPU music performance groups participated in the convention. The Friday evening program began with a concert by the Concert Choir under the direction of Milt Friesen. Members of Crosswind, an ensemble conducted by Melita Zubacz that performs contemporary worship music, led congregational singing Saturday morning.

Representatives from a variety of Mennonite Brethren and inter-Mennonite ministries gave abbreviated reports during the convention. The exception was Randy Friesen, general director of MB Mission who recently returned to North America after traveling in Turkey and Germany and gave delegates a first-hand account of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Photos by Sam Wall

Photo 1: Delegates surround Melissa Bergen, (pink sweater to left) pastor of community outreach at Iglesia Companerismo Cristiano, Shafter, Calif., to pray for her and the congregation she serves.

Photo 2: The FPU Concert Choir performs at the Friday evening program that highlighted church planting.



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